Jack Docherty: 'Regret, loss, obsession, impotence … you know, comedy!'
For anyone with a scintilla of appreciation of the truly entertaining things in life, the most eagerly anticipated homecoming of the summer was never really the football, but rather Jack Docherty, whose return to the Fringe comes after a quarter of a century (barring 2018's McGlashan appearance) away from the emotional rollercoaster and professional dodgems of August in Edinburgh.
The pride of George Watson's College found early Fringe success as a Comedy Award nominated Bodger, then TV fame in Absolutely, before achieving National Treasure status as Scot Squad's Chief McGlashan. Now he is taking a huge leap into the unknown by bringing Nothing But, the most personal hour of his career, to a Fringe still dangling by a thread, thanks to the toxic fog of virus and politics through which precious little is ever going to be clear. Even as we talk, the Gilded Balloon’s Karen Koren gets news that Edinburgh University has made a last minute decision not to allow any indoor performances in university property. And outside in Bristo Square is not really the place for a mature, soul-baring, comic.
“Well, it's not my ‘and this is me’ moment,” Docherty says hastily, referring to the part of legendary impressionist Mike Yarwood's show where he came out from behind the characters and performed as 'himself'. “With everyone sitting screaming ‘no, don't be you, Mike, you aren't any good as you.’” Docherty shakes his head. “It could be a staging post on the way to stand up,” he muses. It is, he says “a leap in the dark”.
INTERIOR DAY. JACK DOCHERTY SITS ON A PINK CHAIR. HE IS SMILING.
JACK: “It is a play. A quasi serious play. But it is funny. In parts....”
HE LEANS BACK THEN FORWARD AGAIN, QUICKLY.
“And I am playing myself … well, a version of myself, so not myself, but I am playing Jack Docherty. Me. But I am acting.”
INTERVIEWER DRAWS A LINE THROUGH HER QUESTION “HOW DOES IT FEEL COMING TO STAND UP AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?”
“It is a fiction. But there is true stuff in it. Quite a lot of true stuff.”
HE NOTICES INTERVIEWER WRITING 'THEATRE????!!!!' ON HER PAD. AND CONTINUES ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
“It is a take on all these rom-coms where this bloke falls in love with the manic pixie dream girl. Except there is no manic pixie dream girl. It is a love story. But it is really all about reconnecting with my daughter.”
“Not my real daughter.”
By the end of this part of our meeting, we both have developed acute SRI from the abundance of air quotes that are being used.
He is, of course, facing a comic/comedy actor's greatest fear: “the terror of silence in an audience”. Given that he describes the piece as “a way into regret, ageing, loss, obsession, impotence. … you know, comedy!” even McGlashan can't help him if this goes wrong.
Eyebrows hurtle upwards to where a hairline used to be, and, finding nothing, come back down. He shakes his head. “Can you sense that they are rapt?” he worries. “Or just bored? That laughter and tears thing, the geniuses can do it. Jim Broadbent can have you rolling around one minute and in tears the next.” He does that very Scottish thing of almost visibly 'giving himself a shake'. “Well, you don't know till you try it.”
Given the joy brought by every one of the comedy creations Docherty has given us over the decades, it is unlikely that the character of Jack Docherty will fail to be another delight. But is taking his leap in the dark in a year when the Fringe is doing much the same a deliberate choice?
“That is why I was determined to do it this Fringe,” he says. “As soon as I heard it might be happening but smaller, I knew I had to do it. You hear comics saying they're not going to come up, because they can't make money and there's no awards and they can't further their careers and that is not what it should be about and that is not what it used to be about.”
You cannot argue with a man who, one August, aged 14, told his parents he would rather stay in Edinburgh than come with them to Paris.
“I said, ‘No, just leave me some money and I will go and see all these shows.’ And I saw all the Oxford and Cambridge revues. Even Bristol Uni and they were funny but they were all English.”
Fast forward to 1980 and friendships forged in finding the funny at George Watson's College. “Murray and Gordy and me thought, we could be the Scottish ones. I don't think there even were any Scottish sketch groups then. But it's a Scottish festival and it should always have a really strong Scottish presence.”
And so it got the Bodgers, and a comedy powerhouse was built when the Bodgers begat Absolutely, with the addition of John Sparkes and Morwenna Banks, colleagues from the comedy circuit (and, importantly, Welsh and Cornish, and still Celtic). Plus, he points out, “Back in the day all you needed was one woman in comedy for television.”
Back then, the comedy section of the brochure could be perused in a few minutes. And venues like the EICC or McEwan Hall had no place on the Fringe.
“I know it has been 25 years but I love the Fringe so much,” says Edinburgh's own Homecoming King. “ and that is still the Fringe that is in my mind.” He might be in for a bit of a shock. But, whatever it has become, “with no Fringe I wouldn't be doing what I am doing … having the time of my life all these years.”
Jack Docherty: Nothing But, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 11-14, 16-25, 27-29 August, 7pm. https://gildedballoon.co.uk
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